Why use the word "Debunk"

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
debunk%2C_v.___Oxford_English_Dictionary-20101231-122508.jpg
Why do I use the word "debunk", and not "skeptic"?

I call myself a debunker because "skeptic" is not a verb, and "investigator" is too limited.

This site is about doing skeptical analysis, about skeptical activism, about skeptical investigations. It's about the best ways to find and present the best evidence, and the soundest scientific work and theories. It's also about how to prevent the spread of bunk, and how to stop bunk forming in the first place. Debunking is an active verb - debunking is about doing these thing. Simply being skeptical just sounds too passive. Simply "investigating" is only a piece of the puzzle.

Now "debunk", one might argue, has got a bit of a bad rap. Some people use the word "debunker" to mean someone who dishonestly argues for a particular position, regardless of the actual facts. Such a person might, in conspiracy culture, be described as a government or corporate "shill".

But in my experience, the word "debunk" still maintains a very honest meaning to most of the population. Even on conspiracy web sites you'll find people claiming that some subject has been "debunked" (although they tend to use the word from both directions, to debunk the debunkers). Example:

http://www.google.com/search?q=debunked site:abovetopsecret.com

Gives us:
  • UPS902 Contrail Science plane theory debunked
  • TimeWave Zero Thoroughly Debunked
  • Reality of Climate Change - Hacked E-mails Debunked
  • Evolution Officially Debunked!!!
  • planet passing the sun debunked
  • Phil Schnider Debunked!
  • Mayan Calendar Questionable (Debunked?)
  • Ed Krupp Debunked
  • Debunked: FEMA Camps
  • Chemtrail DC-10 Video Debunked

(That first result is an interesting read, the thread starter attempts to debunk my explanation of the "Mystery Missile", and continues to defend his debunking for a few days, but then does a quite dramatic about-face that leads some of his fellows to suspect he's a "disinfo" agent.)

So even in high-bunk zones, the terms "debunk" and "debunked" still generally holds its original meaning. Where we do have a bit of a problem is with the word "debunker".

http://www.google.com/search?q=debunker site:abovetopsecret.com

  • Why do debunkers have an opinion about a conspiracy if they do not think it is real?
  • 911 Debunkers Take Beating on ATS
  • To Bunk Or Debunk...Newbrunswick photo...
  • According to so called "debunkers" the Holocaust never happened
  • Poor debunker illogical generalisations - why?
  • Tinley Park UFO - Calling all the UFO debunker's out - Debunk this
  • Debunking the Chemtrail Debunker
  • Hello from an unabashed space CT debunker
  • I Am A 911 Debunker and I Quit!!! No Evidence to Support Official Story
  • Debunker harrasses and terrorizes 9/11 family members and truthers

A mixed bag there. But the general trend is that a "debunker" is someone who is defending the wrong side of the argument, from the perspective of the poster. In the first 911 story, we are described thusly:

With no sense of irony there, the poster uses the term "debunker" as a pejorative, while using the term "debunked" to describe something he and his cohorts have done. He then also castigates the debunkers for being impolite, then immediately lays into their lack of maturity and rationale (I think he means rationality).

Then again in "Debunking the Chemtrail Debunker", the poster seems to simultaneously use "debunk" in both this positive and negative light. So I think really what's going on here is that 90% of the time when "debunker" is used negatively, it's just being used as a shorthand for "9/11 Debunker", "UFO Debunker", "Chemtrail Debunker", etc. They know that debunking is generally a good thing. The remaining 10% have just picked up on this shorthand, and have assumed that "debunker" itself if a term for some kind of disinformation agent.

Don't worry about that 10%. Debunking is the right word for what we do. It's unfortunate that it raises suspicions here and there, but sadly you are also going to get negative reactions from the same people to words like "skeptic", "investigator", "evidence based", "statistics", "wikipedia", and even "science".

Debunking. Getting rid of the bunk. It's what we do.
 
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Charlie Primero

Active Member
> "Debunking. Getting rid of the bunk. It's what we do."

A bunk is:

1. a built-in platform bed, as on a ship.

2. Informal . any bed.

3. a cabin used for sleeping quarters, as in a summer camp; bunkhouse.

4. a trough for feeding cattle.



I think you meant; "bunkum"

1. insincere speechmaking by a politician intended merely to please local constituents.



2. insincere talk; claptrap; humbug.



Also, buncombe.


Origin:
Americanism ; after speech in 16th Congress, 1819–21, by F. Walker, who said he was bound to speak for Buncombe (N.C. county in district he represented)
 

MikeC

Closed Account
Bunk is a generally accepted shortening of bunkum that appear in many dictinoaries, if not all, eg:

- http://www.thefreedictionary.com/bunk
 

Critical Thinker

Senior Member.
When I look up the definition of debunk...

de·bunk (d -b ngk )tr.v. de·bunked, de·bunk·ing, de·bunksTo expose or ridicule the falseness, sham, or exaggerated claims of:





However, due to the politeness policy we are to limit our discourse to the 'expose' part. I understand and agree with that policy, but sometimes it really is an exercise in self control to refrain from engaging in ridicule of the more absurd claims that are made..... alas, so many snarky quips and snide remarks must go unspoken (unwritten).
 
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Jazzy

Closed Account
Critical Thinker;46222 said:
When I look up the definition of debunk...
de·bunk (d -b ngk )tr.v. de·bunked, de·bunk·ing, de·bunksTo expose or ridicule the falseness, sham, or exaggerated claims of:

However, due to the politeness policy we are to limit our discourse to the 'expose' part. I understand and agree with that policy, but sometimes it really is an exercise in self control to refrain from engaging in ridicule of the more absurd claims that are made..... alas, so many snarky quips and snide remarks must go unspoken (unwritten).
Or not, and pay the consequences. There are times when this works for me. :)
 
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skephu

Senior Member.
It may be of interest to you guys that prominent skeptic Joe Nickell introduces himself on his facebook page like this:
I am not a "debunker" but an investigator. We should set out neither to foster nor debunk a mystery, but rather to solve it--in which case any needed debunking will be taken care of.
 

Pete Tar

Senior Member.
Not true, sometimes it's self-evident if you have knowledge or experience of the topic already.
There's 'Is this true? Let's look' - the open-minded investigation which may uncover bunk - and then there's 'this is not true, and here's why' - debunking.
 
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skephu

Senior Member.
Not true, sometimes it's self-evident if you have knowledge or experience of the topic already.
There's 'Is this true? Let's look' - the open-minded investigation which may uncover bunk - and then there's 'this is not true, and here's why' - debunking.
But all topics had to be investigated first. And when you say "this is not true, and here's why", all you're going to do is to reiterate the findings of the previously performed investigation.
So investigation always comes first. Debunking is just reiterating the results of an earlier investigation.
 

Pete Tar

Senior Member.
I guess regards the original point you're making it's just another way to look at it, perhaps a more 'positive' one. It implies debunking is 'negative' , which technically it is as it's a process of negation rather than positive discovery, but it's a subjective thing and you kind of end up the same place.
 

skephu

Senior Member.
well yes. Then is there really a meaningful difference between the terms?
The main problem with the word "debunking" is that it implies that you know the truth before investigating it.
This is dangerous as it invites confirmation bias.
You first decide what is true on an emotional basis and then you try to seek evidence to support your view.
This is exactly the approach skeptics should avoid rather than encourage.
 

Trigger Hippie

Senior Member.
You first decide what is true on an emotional basis and then you try to seek evidence to support your view.

Can you point to a specific example of this on happening on Metabunk, where a member has decided what is true, only then seeking out facts to fit their conclusions?


It may be of interest to you guys that prominent skeptic Joe Nickell introduces himself ...

Seems Joe Nickell has adopted a strategy that differs slightly from Metabunk's. Whereas Joe is seeking to solve the larger "mystery", Metabunk focuses only on verifying individual claims of evidence. We're debunking false facts, not conspiracies.

e.g. We are not trying to determine if demons are real. We try to determine the origin of some shadowy image in a particular photograph.

demon.jpg

https://www.metabunk.org/threads/debunked-demon-photographed-on-a-hospital-bed.3057/
 

skephu

Senior Member.
Can you point to a specific example of this on happening on Metabunk, where a member has decided what is true, only then seeking out facts to fit their conclusions?
No. But that's basically how the human mind works. You have to work against your natural tendencies to prevent that.
When someone says "ok this is bunk, let's debunk it", it implies that the conclusion is already decided before the investigation.
 

skephu

Senior Member.
Also, whenever someone comes here saying "please debunk this" or "please help me debunk this", it indicates that they have already decided what's true, and just would like to collect some facts or arguments to confirm their view. That's confirmation bias at work
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
This qualifies as investigation, not debunking.

In the course of debunking, investigation is performed.

I agree there's a bit of problem of perception with the term. But I still prefer it, for the reasons state in the OP.

At the skeptics conference "The Amazing Meeting" in 2013, James Randi said he does not like the term "debunker", and prefers "investigator". At TAM 2014 it actually seemed to me that the term "debunking" was becoming more popular. There were also a few instances where old media clips were played, where the term "debunked" was used, including one with Randi himself.

One has to have a reason to investigate a claim of evidence. Naturally we investigate those that seem suspicious. Quite often they are very obviously wrong, and the work of debunking is more educational than investigatory - i.e. it's explaining why something is bunk, rather than figuring out if it is bunk.

Prejudging could be a problem, but I really don't thinking that happens very often here. We have a focus on individual pieces of evidence that removes a lot of the more speculative conclusions.

But perhaps you could provide some actual examples, if you think there's an actual problem.
 

Efftup

Senior Member.
I agree with Mick. Just like Conspiracy Theorist or Truther, the word debunker has taken on a negative connotation to mean someone who wrongly argues the wrong side of a CT.
But the original meaning still stands. I am aware James Randi prefers to use sceptic because even he seems to use the term debunker in the sense of taking an opposite stance on something blindly.

AS Mick stated, the idea behind debunking is to remove what is bunkum, or false.
In something as wide as a 9/11 conspiracy, it was an inside job because of x, y and z. If x,y and z are not true, then it is our job to point that out and why. We might then say we do not think there is ANY evidence that 9/11 was an inside job,and therefore have no reason to doubt the official explanation but it COULD STILL BE.

The problem with a lot of CTs, is that it becomes an us and them mentality. If you do not accept the CT version of events, then that means you must be part of THEM, or a supporter of the government or a sheep who blindly listens to what the MSM tells you. So if say, you are a structural building engineer and therefore know that a particular 9/11 theory regarding collapse is false, you will say it is false and why. You may not have knowledge that would tell you one way or the other about stand down orders, aircraft design limits or whatever so you won't comment on them. You will still be a debunker. in the truest, original meaning of the word.

There are two types of OP who mention the word debunk. One is a cocky CT'er who is SO sure of their position and their "new" evidence they issue the word as a challenge. DEBUNK THIS!!! they are certain you will shit your pants at this as you are shills and will have no way you can try and explain this away. These people are almost inevitably referred to previous threads where their "new" info has been debunked over and over.

The second type is usually a please help me debunk this, so they already think it is bunk but want facts and arguing points. These people probably are prejudging, and it is something that we all do to a certain extent, but need to be wary of when investigating something that may or may not be bunk.
 

deirdre

Senior Member.
Prejudging could be a problem, but I really don't thinking that happens very often here
actually with the posting guidelines and forum set up, it really cant happen here. even if one does prejudge something they have to provide evidence to support their idea (actually research it) and then others can come back and present evidence to refute it. Noone wants to be proven wrong so I think debunkers here look for flaws in their debunking themselves.

Debunker is much much better than 'investigator'.
 
The main problem with the word "debunking" is that it implies that you know the truth before investigating it.
This is dangerous as it invites confirmation bias.
You first decide what is true on an emotional basis and then you try to seek evidence to support your view.
This is exactly the approach skeptics should avoid rather than encourage.
That's the problem when words have certain connotations. Whatever other words debunkers use to call themselves would suffer the same problem because the problem is in the perception of others. The problem isn't with the word.

Since visiting this forum, I never had any sort of connotation associated with the word "debunk" or "debunker" but now have come to understand it as someone who examines evidence and removes the falsehoods, not that they are taking any rigid stances. Though, I now associate debunking with Mick and this community which has a lot of emphasis on honesty, being open to being wrong, and politeness, so my connotation of the word is positive.
 

Trigger Hippie

Senior Member.
Noone wants to be proven wrong so I think debunkers here look for flaws in their debunking themselves.

Absolutely true.

I find the debunker vs. investigator issue a little pedantic. People will post claims of conspiracies on the internet. Sometimes those claims are accompanied by evidence. Sceptics will examine, inspect, scrutinize, investigate and dissect that evidence to determine if it's bunk or not. What's the difference between calling that process "debunking" or "investigative scrutinization for the determination of acceptable evidence"?
 

skephu

Senior Member.
now have come to understand it as someone who examines evidence and removes the falsehoods, not that they are taking any rigid stances
From the Merriam-Webster thesaurus:
debunk:
to prove to be false
Synonyms: belie, confound, confute, debunk, disconfirm, discredit, falsify, rebut, refute, shoot down

So debunking is synonymous with refutation. It's not synonymous with investigation.
Investigation is open-ended, it may either refute or confirm a claim.
Debunking can only refute it.
Thus, if you call yourself a debunker, it implies that you will refute everything, i.e. it implies bias.
 
It would make sense though, would it not? The act of debunking is refuting falsehoods. If you haven't refuted a falsehood, you haven't done any debunking. To refute a falsehood would require investigation.

It doesn't imply you will refute everything, but the refuting things is inherent in the debunking process. If there's nothing to refute, no debunking has been done.

I do see what you're trying to say, but I don't think the word matters. If the individual has their own biases, no matter what they call themselves, they will "debunk" or "investigate" in such a way that shows that bias. Regardless of the correct word to use, I believe that one should keep a reasonably open mind and be open to being proven wrong. It is my experience here that most users follow that mindset.
 
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Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
From the Merriam-Webster thesaurus:


So debunking is synonymous with refutation. It's not synonymous with investigation.
Investigation is open-ended, it may either refute or confirm a claim.
Debunking can only refute it.
Thus, if you call yourself a debunker, it implies that you will refute everything, i.e. it implies bias.

THe dictionary is more useful than a thesaurus here:
http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/debunk
It is to SHOW the falseness in something. It is this explanatory action that I feel "investigate" is lacking.

Bit of a moot point however. I explained all this in the OP. I've accepted that some people think the term implies prejudice, but I still prefer to use it - as those people simply think that anyone who corrects them is a disinfo agent, regardless of what they call themselves.
 

skephu

Senior Member.
To refute a falsehood would require investigation.
But that's the wrong logic. Whether something is a falsehood or a "truehood" is only revealed by the investigation.
That's exactly what Joe Nickell pointed out. You should investigate first, and only decide whether something is false after the investigation.
If you start your investigation with the intention to refute something, you will start with a bias.

If you say "I'm a debunker", it means you refute stuff. Essentially you are announcing that you are biased.
 

skephu

Senior Member.
It is to SHOW the falseness in something
No, not IN something, but OF something.

I understand you want to use it to mean "clean something from the falsehoods" but it rather means "show that something is false in its entirety".
 

Efftup

Senior Member.
the something that is false in its entirety is the specific claim, NOT a whole wider conspiracy which the specific claim is used as evidence for.
That is what is debunked. I have never seen any evidence that people in here AIM to show something is false, they simply investigate stuff ans subsequently find it so.
However, if you are used to seeing ridiculous sounding theories and you are on your 35th piece of "evidence" it is EXTREMELY hard to keep the neutrality, even if you are trying your hardest to be so. You might well EXPECT to find it is false, but you should at least endeavour to investigate it as impartially as possible.
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
I'm sorry, I didn't know the OP was a declaration and you don't want any comments. Just lock the topic then.
I'm happy to have comments, but you seem to just be repeating objections that have already been covered.
 

Pete Tar

Senior Member.
You can only debunk what is false, what is left is true*, it amounts to the same. Debunking is specific, with details, and may only contain one part of the whole. It makes no claims on what it can't debunk. You're trying to imply debunking will debunk a much wider target than is warranted, but as debunking has to show its work, it can't.


*I should qualify that, what is left is either true or cannot be determined either way.
 
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Hama Neggs

Senior Member.
e.g. We are not trying to determine if demons are real.

But that would be impossible to do. All you CAN do is show a mundane reason for a shadow in a particular photo, etc.

"Debunker" has been painted with the same brush as "shill" now. People talk about "the debunkers" jumping on something and saying that no mater what was presented on a certain subject, the debunkers would say it was wrong. This misses the point that most everything being presented is BUNK and therefor gets shown as such.
 

skephu

Senior Member.
Looks like some people have fallen in love with the word "debunking".
It carries the wrong message.
Of course you can attach explanations to it like "by debunking I don't mean this but that" etc. but it's useless. To most people it will mean that you are out to refute whatever is thrown at you. And to some extent you will indeed assume that mindset--which is wrong.
 

MikeC

Closed Account
Debunking is a conclusion - I have debunked stuff - therefore I am a debunker.

I have also occasionally investigated stuff that I have not debunked - does that make me not a debunker?

Debunking is certainly a refutation of something - but only when that refutation is warranted after investigation.

If that's a problem for you then I think ..well...you have a problem.

But it's not my problem and I'm not going to take your monkey on my back.
 

skephu

Senior Member.
You can only debunk what is false
That would be true in an idealized world, but it's not true in reality. "Debunkers" are subject to cognitive biases just like everyone else. They can cherry-pick facts, give more weight to evidence supporting their opinion, etc. Humans are extremely good at convincing themselves that they are right.
If you approach a question with the intent to debunk it, then you will probably manage to debunk it, whatever the question.
That's why the "debunker" mindset is dangerous.
 
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